African Women have BEEN Feminists

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Definitions of feminism first came from the West; a term deeply rooted in a history that didn’t include women who looked like my ancestors or me. I remember reading “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan in my undergraduate Gender course. Excuse my French, but that shit confused me, this was a book all about middle-aged white women who were tired of being housewives, they were unhappy with their plush lives and unsatisfied with suburbia. THIS Friedan called “the problem that has no name,” the unhappiness of 1950’s white homemakers who apparently wanted more for themselves than a life of leisure and reproducing. I was concerned, and that’s when I knew there had to be a different sect of feminism. I knew there had to be more layers to feminism because there were more women in the world than white suburban housewives.

I remember calling my mom in Abidjan one day asking her to define feminism. It was mostly a joke, like when I ask her opinion on Kim and Kanye or H&M’s Versace line.  Asking her about things that she doesn’t think impacts her life breeds funny answers like, “Does Kim pay for my fuel? Is Versace in my family?” So when I asked her for her definition she surprised me by telling me the story of how she urged my dad to play a bigger part at home when they first moved to the US. She told him that he needed to help clean, and cook, and wash my older brother because that’s what good men did, they helped their wives.  She said even though her in laws saw her as emasculating my father, she stood her ground that helping your wife did not make a man any less masculine.

My mother went on to tell me that my grandmother was a feminist; she fought with men for her space along the banks of rivers so she could fish for herself instead of depending on her husband. My grandmother was a single mother who happened to be married, so she worked hard everyday of her life to find the money to send my uncle to pharmacy school in Dakar and my mother to Paris. My grandmother knew that while my Grandfather was having children outside of their marriage, she had to be the one to provide, that was her role. My grandmother was a feminist, my mother is a feminist, neither is able to give you the long convoluted definitions that have confused the academic world for decades, but their strength and demand for respect and equality in a historically patriarchal society is their definition.

As women of the diaspora, educated abroad, existing in many different worlds, its important for us to understand that our ancestors have BEEN feminists. Strong women who have triumphed over domestic abuse, single motherhood, colonization, war, all while carrying their communities on our backs. Senegalese writer, Awa Thiam, puts it so well when she says that “the Black woman of Africa suffers a threefold oppression: by virtue of her sex, she is dominated by man in a patriarchal society; by virtue of her class she is at the mercy of capitalist exploitation; by virtue of her race she suffers from the appropriation of her country by colonial or neo-colonial powers.”  With so many things against us, how could we survive without the strength to fight for equality, respect, and recognition? We have fought for our voices to be heard, for our pay to be equal, for us to be recognized as vital parts of our societies.

So, as the West continues to try to define Africa, and its women, in the paradigm of poverty, disease, and helplessness; its important to remember that while American and European white women were burning bras, our ancestors were raging against colonialism. They were becoming the first black women educated in their respective countries. They were fighting in civil wars. I mean lets be honest here, African women have BEEN feminists, lets not let academia confuse that for us.

I’ve seen you crucified too. Spread out onbillboards to be spiritually impaled by millions of men with eyes like nails, who make martyrs of your daughters. 

“And if, for decades, fair-skinned women with Anglo-Saxon features are deemed “Most Beautiful” by a national publication, don’t we collectively, to some extent, absorb this information as truth? Even the black women on this list — Beyoncé and Halle Berry — have very light skin tones. Thick lips and wide noses — long considered “ugly” by the Western world — are excluded, thereby reinforcing the idea that they could never be “beautiful.”

-Dodai Stewart

A week and 4 days until Paris for my soul-mates wedding!!! What is my life about? SERIOUSLY. My best friend is getting married?! I can’t deal.

I’m trying to prepare for the trip by loosing weight, that hasn’t worked since my ass (literally my ass) has gained 5 pounds. SIGH.

I finally got more pages added to my passport at the American consulate here in Cape Town, way too expensive, $82?! Uhhh what happened to the taxes I paid that one year, it should have been free.

BLAH, gotta start on this 20 page paper on Fanon and Cabral’s theories on national consciousness. Sometime I am OVER grad school, want to work at Barnes and Noble.

The Feminine Mystique begins with an introduction describing what Betty Friedan called “the problem that has no name”—the widespread unhappiness of women in the 1950s and early 1960s. It discusses the lives of several housewives from around the United States who were unhappy despite living in material comfort and being happily married with fine children.”

I was 19 when I read the Feminine Mystique, and I was 19 when I began looking for an alternate definition for this word feminism. If being a feminist was about trying to decipher white middle class women’s problems, I was in the wrong field.

“Why did you decide to go natural?”- EVERYONE

“Because this is the way my hair grows out of my head.”- Moi

The first three pictures are from my big chop 2 years ago this week! WOW it has indeed been a roller coaster for my hair since then, but when I took my braids out this week, I know there was and is no other choice for me but the natural state.

And trust, I do not judge my relaxed sisters, I just choose to no longer subscribe to the politics of straight and processed hair.

That is all 🙂

“The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.”- bell hooks

These are some random shots of Ciara Small and I’s fall vacation to Florence and Chianti, Italy last November 🙂

I always have people asking me “OMG, how the hell can you afford to travel SO MUCH?”

  1. I do not spend all my days on lavish vacations (although it may sometimes seem like that on facebook :-/)
  2. I have a JOB, no kids, no credit cards, no car note, no mortgage, and no real bills…YET.
  3. I have a very strict budget that I follow every month, with emphasis on what goes in (and stays in!) to my savings account
  4. I am so busy with work, classes, and papers during the week, I hardly have time to eat out. I save lots by packing my lunch most of the time.
  5. I refuse to spend money getting into clubs, bars, or lounges in DC. NO.
  6. I limit my domestic trips, instead of spending hundreds going to Miami or Vegas, I just save and go somewhere outside the country.
  7. I shop at Goodwill’s and Salvation Armies most of the time and save a TON on clothing and accesories

So yea, I feel like if people lived more simply, reevaluated their expenditures every month, and made it a priority to see the world, traveling would become a bit more tangible.

Lata Hata’s